Stroke of Genius: Riverlands Country Club celebrating 55 years of family fun
Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 18, 2017
LAPLACE — It was Sam Miano who first looked at a giant sugarcane field in LaPlace and saw the potential.
Miano, an avid golfer from Reserve, was getting tired of driving into the city all the time to play golf. He wanted something more local for the families in the burgeoning town of LaPlace, caught in the no-man’s land between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
So in 1960, he and some like-minded fellows met at local restaurant Airline Motors and first worked out an idea for a golf course to be built in LaPlace.
It was to become Riverlands Golf and Country Club.
Earl Booth, who was living and raising a family in River Ridge at the time, was there and bought one of the first memberships.
“I don’t even know how I caught wind of the meeting they held, but I managed to scrounge up $200,” said Booth. “I was a member before they had holes.”
Two years later, the dream became a reality when the first nine holes opened to much fanfare — but without much shade — on an eventual 128 acres of former sugar cane fields north of Airline Highway.
The land for the project was once owned by Gulf States Land and Industries, Inc., which gave Riverlands a $1 lease for 99 years, with the stipulation that it always be used for a golf course.
The par 72 course was designed by Henry Thompson, then the head pro at New Orleans Country Club. The clubhouse was a former slave quarters moved to the site.
“You had to watch where you walked,” Booth said. “There were some soft spots in the floors.”
Now 55 years later, Riverlands is still living up to its promise. It also is thriving, even as other golf clubs in the area have struggled.
Bill Bennett, who is the current president of the club, says Riverlands’ success comes from its family-oriented atmosphere, its popularity among local youth and its affordable fees.
“A lot of golf courses are struggling,” Bennett said. “We seem to be generating a little bit of a new vibe in our pursuit of the young golfers. When there are other courses struggling out there to grow the game, we’re not going to grow it with people that are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. We need to grow it with the young kids. We’ve got some young golfers that participate, that grew up on this course.”
Among those youngsters is Mikey Landry, a junior at St. Charles Catholic who finished second in Louisiana at last year’s State Tournament.
He was in diapers when his dad first let him loose on the course, which just happens to be in his backyard.
“It’s good for beginners, it’s good for people who play a lot,” Landry said. “It’s fair, that’s the best way I can say it. It can be a challenge.”
Riverlands offers a variety of membership packages for everyone from the casual golfer to the family of golfers and swimmers.
The club has had a swim team since mid-60s, started by longtime member Janet Hyme and now coached by her granddaughter, Lindsey Vicknair.
“Our membership programs are geared toward every kind of category of golfer,” Bennett said.
“If somebody just wants to play golf, we’ve got a membership for that. If somebody just wants to play golf in the summer, we’ve got a membership for that. Some people want to use it as a social place and just hang out. If you’ve got a family, that is by far the best value.”
The club is offering a current anniversary special of $295 (plus tax) for a membership, which offers unlimited golf through April of 2018.
Bennett also stressed that Riverlands is not a members-only club.
“Anybody can call up and get a tee time and come out and play,” Bennett said.
Booth, who is now 91, still plays the course nearly every day and has hit two holes-in-one in just the last year.
He said he has seen it all, from the days when there wasn’t a tree on the course, to the days when women weren’t allowed to play on Sunday mornings, to when there were so many members and he couldn’t get a tee time.
“It really is a hidden treasure,” Booth said.
Said Bennett: “We are really deep in the neighborhood. People are not really aware that we’re here.”
Riverlands Country Club is located at 500 Fairway Dr. in LaPlace.
Visit riverlandscountryclub.com or call 985-652-6316.